In a world increasingly smitten with full-bodied reds, it’s gratifying to see a few white styles elbow their way into the spotlight. Restaurants around the globe are once again taking part this season in a movement known as the Summer of Riesling. Instigated by New York restaurateur and ex-Torontonian Paul Grieco, the campaign is designed to showcase a white grape beloved by sommeliers and other wine geeks for its fruitiness, complexity and verve but supposedly underappreciated by the merlot-sipping masses.
Also, last weekend saw another successful run of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, a sprawling three-day Niagara party honouring the zippier, cleaner side of the world’s most popular white grape. The sixties had Woodstock and free love; now we’re into chardonnay conferences and structured tastings.
It would be nice, though, if a few hundred other worthy white varieties received more prime-time exposure, too – relatively exotic grapes like greco, albarino, pecorino, arneis and muscat. As the following bottles make clear, summer was not made only for riesling (or chardonnay).
Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2013 (Nova Scotia)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
Modelled loosely after gently spritzy and moderately sweet moscato d’Asti of northern Italy, this gloriously floral Gaspereau Valley white wine – more precisely, it’s faintly pink – is made from aromatic muscat variety. The electric acidity imparts a drier profile than that of its Italian archetype. If the FTD man delivered wine, this aromatic gem would be it. It has just seven-per-cent alcohol. Various prices in Alberta, $24.67 in Manitoba, $24.99 in Nova Scotia.
Rabl Langenlois Gruner Veltliner 2012 (Austria)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $16.95
From a respected old producer, this big-value gruner is medium-bodied, silky and very dry, with enticing notes of flowers, white pepper and mineral. I’d serve it with pretty much anything from soup, cheese or vegetarian dishes to chicken, pork or veal, but fish such as halibut or trout could be especially lovely. Available in Ontario.
Paco & Lola Albarino 2012 (Spain)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $18.95
Northwestern Spain’s Rias Baixas district is a showcase for albarino, a noble grape with impressive depth of flavour for its lean frame. This, from a prominent producer, is light-medium-bodied and bone-dry. The flavours hint at lemon zest and underripe pear and peach (nice in a wine, if too bracing when it comes to actual fruit), finishing with juicybitter tension. It’s perfect for light seafood or as a lively aperitif. Various prices in Alberta.
Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo 2012 (Italy)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.95
A regal white grape of southern Italy, greco may be best known for the wines it yields near the town of Tufo in the region of Campania that surrounds Naples. It can be full-bodied, silky and subtly redolent of apricots and flowers. Mastroberardino, one of Campania’s most distinguished producers, crafts several vibrant grecos from a variety of sites. This flagship 2012 Greco di Tufo is light-medium-bodied, crisp and juicy, with classic apricot and lemon notes captured on a chewy texture. It would pair well with vegetarian pastas based on olive oil (rather than tomato sauce). From the same producer, the good Greco Campania sells for $19.99 in B.C. and the NovaSerra sells for $21.61 in Manitoba.
Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.95
Pinot blanc many not exactly be obscure but the grape gets a lot less attention than its popular relatives pinot noir and pinot gris. This is a remarkably expressive 2012 from Gray Monk, a pioneering B.C. estate founded in 1972 by the Heiss family. Mediumbodied, round and silky, it suggests sweet peach and citrus, with excellent fruit-acid balance. Medium-weight fish would make a good match. $16.99 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $20.99 in Manitoba.
Niro Pecorino 2013 (Italy)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
Zippy and light yet satisfyingly oily, here’s a white, named after the sheep (pecore) that supposedly loved to graze on it. It comes across like pears and lemons dusted with herbs and pepper. Simply grilled shellfish would pair well with this. $17.47 in Manitoba.
Moon Curser Arneis 2013 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $22
Native to Piedmont in northwest Italy, arneis tends to yield full-bodied, pear-scented wines. After nearly going extinct in the 1970s, it was revived by producers in Italy and has spread to such places as New Zealand, California and B.C. Full-bodied and slightly oily in texture, this admirable example is dry, with pear and melon flavours and a spicy-bitter edge. Available direct from www.mooncurser.com.
Brumont Gros Manseng-Sauvignon 2013 (France)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $12.95
Light and brilliantly tangy, this white combines gros manseng’s stone-fruit core with lemon and lime, underpinned by sauvignon blanc’s flinty-herbal essence. Match it with zesty, light foods such as salads or raw oysters. Various prices in Alberta, $15.99 in Saskatchewan, $13.40 in Quebec, $14.95 in PEI.